All The World’s A Store, So Think Like A Retailer
That we live, shop and transact in a multichannel world is a well-documented cultural and commercial truth. A 2014 Deloitte study showed that digital technologies now influence $1.1 trillion in bricks-and-mortar retail sales (36%). That number is projected to hit 50% this year, while online sales via social media – aka “social commerce” – are expected to hit $14 billion in 2015.
Today – with deepest apologies to Shakespeare – “all the world’s a store.” No longer constrained by time or distance, consumers have absolute freedom to transact; a journey down the purchase funnel – from impulse to advocacy (#justboughtthis) – can be compressed to a matter of seconds. And in such a world, product marketers are behaving a bit more like retailers and vice versa.
Consider this. I went to oldspice.com and bought a stick of deodorant for $5.99 (I went with Foxcrest – for the Cunning Gentleman – from their Wild Collection). A CPG brand is acting as its very own sales channel. In another new permutation of modern commerce, Amazon recently opened their first bricks-and-mortar store on the campus of Purdue University. And – more recently – it was reported that they’re in conversation about acquiring at least some of the ailing Radio Shack chain.
So, I’m given to muse about the nature of brands and advertising in this brave new world. Hypothetically speaking, if all the world is in deed a store, does it follow suit that all advertising is retail advertising? Not quite. Although that’s a funny conceit given that retail is still disdained in certain creative circles like a boorish guest at a hipster cocktail party, someone a bit loud and lacking finesse.
But, I do believe a sort of centrist sensibility is emerging; traditional extremes (pure brand-building on one side, hard-core traffic-driving on the other) are converging toward new common ground. And that begs for reexamination of what a brand is. We need a conceptualization that more readily harmonizes these two extremes, and reflects the more fluid nature of consumer/brand relationships.
I’d like to posit the notion that today brands are “happenings.” A happening thrives on people participating, whether economically, socially or – ideally – both. The commercial and cultural vitality of the happening (which go hand in hand) depend on our ability as marketers to move people to participate, to incite them to action. In this brand-as-happening school of thought, there’s less of a division between driving traffic and building the brand, the ends are one in the same.
Take Starbucks, a brand that straddles the world of retail and consumer products. They recently launched a brand campaign that’s also a rather overt request for store traffic. “Meet Me at Starbucks” doesn’t mince words. As taglines go, it’s a pretty naked call for commerce, although putting it in the voice of the consumer gives it emotional resonance and the ring of truth. Plus, it taps into a cultural tension that – despite all our connected technologies – the truest form of connection occurs through shared experience. The campaign reminds us, “good things happen when we get together” (implicitly over cups of premium priced coffee and after one of us has bought the She & Him CD).
Now, I realize Starbucks lives in a rarified – and enviable – space; they’re a unique blend of physical ubiquity, ritual product usage and cultural currency. But, they’re an interesting reference point to provoke reflection on one’s own brand. You should find reasons to identify rather than disidentify.
As a strategist, I’m constantly challenging my own biases and conventions about how to drive immediate-term commerce, while cultivating long-term brand currency (and vice versa). As a general aspiration, I like it when a brand relies less on spikes of promotional urgency and more on emotional urgency that’s baked right into the narrative (as with “Meet Me at Starbucks”). The key is to discover a personal or cultural tension that your brand is authentically qualified to address. Then – creatively – playing on that tension until it becomes a compulsion to “participate in the happening.” Now.
As anyone reading this knows, ours is not a business of absolutes. As I sit here – armpits lacquered with Old Spice Foxcrest – I can only hope these musings have lived up to the title “Cunning Gentleman.” If nothing else, I do smell sublime.